Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

"It's a M-A-N Thang": Black Male Gender Role Socialization and the Performance of Masculinity in Love Relationships

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

"It's a M-A-N Thang": Black Male Gender Role Socialization and the Performance of Masculinity in Love Relationships

Article excerpt


Black scholars writing on Black male/female relationships tend to agree that they are problematic. However, what they do not agree on are the causes of the problems between Black men and women. Some believe that Black men are the problem while others contend that Black women contribute disproportionately to Black male/female conflict. As opposed to faulting a particular party, it is necessary to examine the ways in which men and women are socialized to not only enter, but to navigate relationships with each other. Through a discussion of the gender socialization of Black children, this article will review the ways in which socialization affects how Black men and women perform specific gender scripts and sex roles in romantic relationships. More specifically, this article will examine the sex role socialization of Black males and how their internalized sex role definitions shape their behavior and interactions with Black women and their expectations of how a Black woman should perform in a relationship. By renewed attention to the issue of the gender socialization of Black children, we can begin to lay the foundation for healthier relationships, families and communities throughout the Black community.

"Men have got to develop some heart and some sound analysis to realize that when sisters get passionate about themselves and their direction, it does not mean that they are readying up to kick men's ass. They are readying up for honesty." - Toni Cade Bambara (1970)

In the African American community, debates on gender and male-female relationships have always been in the forefront of general discussions about the state of the Black nation and family (Bambara, 1970; Staples, 1979; Franklin & Pillow, 1982; Collins, 1987; Aldridge, 1991; Dixon, 1991; Staples and Johnson, 1993; Hill, 2002; hooks, 2004). In the late 1960's and throughout the 1970's, this discussion became especially prominent with the rise of the Black Power Movement and the Women's Movement causing many African Americans to question the ideas of Black masculinity and its affect on Black male-female interpersonal relationships (Karenga, 2002). Authors like Alice Walker (1967), Toni Cade Bambara (1970), and Michele Wallace (1978) explored what Wallace coined the "Black Macho" or generally, the idea that Black women had to begin to step back and allow Black men to reclaim and put to use their long denied masculinity.

Wallace's notion of the "Black macho" was extremely provocative in that in her analysis of Black male-female relationships (unlike many authors who had previously blamed conflictual relationships between Black men and women on white society), Wallace implied that the blame lay with Black males. Wallace's Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman caused such a stir among Black men and women that a few months following its publication; an entire issue of the Black Scholar was devoted to the discussion of Black male-female relationships, often with Wallace's concept of Black Macho as the starting point (Jones, 1979; Karenga, 1979; Staples, 1979).

Scholars like Karenga (1979), and Staples (1979) argued that women like Michele Wallace and Ntozake Shange (1977) unfairly and unjustly hated Black men. Critiques of Wallace's work were typically grounded in the belief that Wallace was misguided and speaking out of personal hurt. It was also believed that her middle class status and education in a predominantly white environment prevented her from truly understanding the influence of the white power structure on Black male-female relationships and therefore rendered her argument null and void (Karenga, 1979). A holdover from the Black Power Movement, there is often the idea in the Black community that gender conflict is a "white thing" that does not affect Black people and most often, it is believed that Black people do not adhere to typical gender roles because racial inequality and the enslavement process have prevented them from doing so. …

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